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Southern chic Atlanta Metro

Courtesy World of Coca-Cola

You can learn a lot about a city by visiting its museums. Spend some time touring the cultural institutions around Atlanta, and you’ll discover a destination that is progressive, cosmopolitan, traditional and trendy.

As the de facto capital city of the American South, Atlanta enjoys a variety of top-tier museums and attractions. Some, such as the Georgia Aquarium and the High Museum of Art, are international leaders in their fields. Others, including the World of Coca-Cola and Inside CNN, show off exciting elements of local history and commerce that are unique to Georgia.

Next time you take your group traveling through Georgia, include time on your itinerary to check out these icons of Atlanta’s museum scene.

World of Coca-Cola
A short walk across Pemberton Place takes visitors from the aquarium to the World of Coca-Cola, the official museum of Atlanta’s most famous commercial brand. Atlanta resident John Pemberton created Coca-Cola at a local drugstore in 1886; in the 20th century, his creation grew to become a giant international success.

At the World of Coca-Cola Museum, guests learn about many aspects of the Coke story, from Pemberton’s early work through the modern era of the cola business. The experience starts with a 15-minute guided tour during which docents give guests an overview of the company’s history and point out some of the valuable Coke memorabilia in the collection, which includes a famous 1931 Norman Rockwell painting of a young boy enjoying a drink from the distinctive glass bottle.

After the guided tour, visitors can explore the rest of the museum’s exhibits at their leisure. The Milestones of Refreshment gallery gives more details on the development and growth of the Coca-Cola company and showcases numerous historical artifacts. In the Vault of the Secret Formula, visitors learn about the myths and legends surrounding the recipe for Coke and see the high-tech vault where the original formula is stored.

A short trip through the Bottle Works area provides a glimpse into the inner workings of a typical Coca-Cola bottling plant. The Pop Art gallery has a collection of paintings, sculptures and other artwork inspired by the Coke brand.

Perhaps the most famous area of the museum is the tasting room, where visitors get unlimited samples of 60 different Coke products from various corners of the world. Each visitor also gets a bottle of Coca-Cola fresh off the bottling line on leaving the museum.

Georgia Aquarium
Since it opened in 2005 at a cost of $290 million, the Georgia Aquarium has been Atlanta’s hottest attraction. The aquarium was developed as a gift to the people of Georgia by Bernie Marcus, co-founder of Home Depot, and has grabbed headlines for its sheer size and breadth of exhibits.

“We’re the largest aquarium in the world,” said public relations specialist Bailey Rogers. “We have 10 million gallons of water, including 6.3 million gallons in a single tank.”

That massive tank is part of the Ocean Voyager exhibit, one of six large themed galleries distributed around the aquarium’s central atrium. Visitors exploring the Ocean Voyager get views of this large tank from many angles, including from a transparent tunnel that runs under the surface. The exhibit is home to four whale sharks — the world’s largest fish at up to 25 feet long — along with rare manta rays, sharks and other sea creatures.

Making their way through the aquarium, groups will encounter marine life from around the world. The Tropical Diver exhibit showcases colorful fish and jellies that live in warm waters. Cold Water Quest features beluga whales, sea otters, penguins and other animals from cooler climates.

Inhabitants of the River Scout gallery include freshwater creatures such as piranha fish and albino alligators, and the Georgia Explorer gallery has a variety of animals native to the state.

The newest section of the museum, Dolphin Tales, opened in 2011. This area features a 25-foot viewing window, where guests can see 11 bottlenose dolphins, and a theater that features performances by dolphins and human actors.

Groups can arrange special behind-the-scenes tours and other experiences with the aquarium staff.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.